Now that the official announcement has come that the Ohio High School Athletic Association has cancelled the winter sports tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the State Individual Wrestling Tournament, reality sinks in for Swanton first-time qualifier Brodie Stevens and coach Ernie Ruiz.
Although just a junior, the Bulldog heavyweight will not get that much-desired state experience, or for that matter an opportunity to make the podium.
“Upon hearing about the cancellation, Brodie, his family, and coaches were all very devastated,” said coach Ruiz. “To make it to the state tournament as a junior and to (be) predicted for standing on the podium is hard to bear concerning these circumstances. The bracket we received put him on a very good line that could’ve possibly had him wrestling in the final. That is of course if he wrestled his best. It is a understatement to say that it is a big disappointment to Brodie and the Swanton wrestling program.”
For Stevens himself, the feeling is disbelief.
“Just kind of surprised by the whole thing. You train for four months to get there, then they cancel it just like that,” he said.
He is not frustrated by the season’s outcome, because situation pending, he will wrestle in the offseason. But seeing that a state placement was highly probable, it does make it hard to deal with.
“After seeing the predictions and seeing they had me predicted fourth, that hurt a lot. Seeing how they had me doing at the tournament,” Stevens said.
As a result of his steady progression throughout the season, and by adding a training partner he did not have to begin the season, Stevens was confident he could live up to those expectations.
“At the beginning of the year probably not,” he said. “But since I got Zach Leahey in there to start (training) with me, most definitely. Because he’s been pushing me a lot.”
Ruiz has all the confidence in the world in Stevens, but that does not change his thought process. He was desperate for him to get that experience at state, for the sole purpose of next season.
“The only bright side to all of this is that he does have another year of high school wrestling,” said Ruiz. “However, I really wanted him to go to this event as a junior (for the experience) to make the probable next year’s trip less intimidating and overwhelming. Obviously there are many wrestlers and teams who were greatly disappointed with the outcome of the season.”
Stevens will push himself all offseason working towards his senior campaign. He has a gym at his home, and will run when he has the chance — either on his treadmill or outside.
And with school being conducted online for the forseeable future, he can start his workouts now when not working on homework.
“It will push me harder,” said Stevens of being unable to finish his season. “Especially with seeing how they had me doing this year against all the other kids. The majority of us going down to state for heavyweight, a majority of them were all seniors.”
Should the situation regarding COVID-19 get better by summer, he would like to compete at the U.S. Marine Corps 16U and Junior National in Fargo, North Dakota July 17-24. It is an event he has participated in since the start of his high school career.
Delta struggles with cancellation
Delta coach Anthony Carrizales admitted that his qualifying wrestlers took the initial news of the state tournament’s postponement pretty hard, going through mourning as if someone they knew had died. But, as the gravity of the situation became more clear, he made sure to let them know how important it was to stay safe during this unprecedented time.
“Now that things have kind of progressed, reality kicks in and you start to realize that..obviously the state tournament is important, but, at the end of the day, we wouldn’t be good coaches if we weren’t able to communicate the message to the boys that there are more important things in life than sports,” said Carrizales. “And obviously, making sure that not only are they safe, but keeping them healthy.”
With the season not be allowed to finish, that outcome perhaps hits Delta harder than most area schools. They had a pair of wrestlers with great shots at a state title or high placement.
And for junior Zack Mattin, a defending state champion at 106 pounds, it was maybe a foregone conclusion he would repeat as champion, now competing at 113 pounds.
“To say he had a great shot I think is an understatement,” said Carrizales. “I think the closest thing to beating him would have been an accidental broken leg. He had beaten everybody in the state. The guys that were the best in Division II and the best guys in Division I. I really was beyond confident that he would be able to go down there and win it.”
Nevertheless, the Panther coach wants Mattin to keep things in perspective.
“My heart goes out to him,” he said. “But again, as a coach, I gotta give him the message that God’s got a plan. Even if we can’t see it right now, well, it doesn’t mean that there’s not a bigger purpose involved here.”
The only real silver lining with the situation, is that all his wrestlers will be back next season. Including Austin Kohlhofer, who had eyes on the Division III 220-pound state title after defeating presumptive champion, Wil Morrow of Patrick Henry, the week before at the district tournament.
“Everybody else on the team besides Zack had never made it (to state) before. Austin Kohlhofer had a great district tournament,” said Carrizales. “He’s only a sophomore. This was gonna be his first trip to state. A chance to win the whole thing – definitely place high. What else can you say, besides, ‘hey it could be worse. You could be a senior.’ I’m just blessed that I don’t have to have that conversation with any of our boys. Because in the past, it’s heart wrenching to have to tell a kid who came up short, who wanted to be a state champ and he’s a senior and he didn’t get it done, that you’re never gonna have another shot.”
The other qualifiers back next season for the Panthers include Evan Hanefeld (106), who was a sophomore, and Max Hoffman (170), a junior.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010